A top Biden administration diplomat admitted Sunday that it is “hard to understand” why the U.S. and other world powers are negotiating a new nuclear deal with Iran, as Tehran claimed responsibility for a Sunday rocket attack that struck near the American consulate in Irbil, Iraq.
Appearing on “Fox News Sunday,” Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman was pressed on the administration’s continued push to secure a new nuclear deal with Tehran.
Officials have said the ongoing nuclear talks in Vienna are nearing completion, despite Iran’s aggression toward Americans in Iraq and even amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Russia is negotiating with Iran along with the other members of the so-called P5+1 — the U.S., China, Britain, France and Germany. If a new deal is reached, Moscow reportedly has demanded that its trade with Iran be exempted from any international sanctions levied on Russia because of its invasion of Ukraine.
Against that backdrop, Ms. Sherman was asked to explain to Americans why the U.S. would remain at the table with belligerent nations such as Iran and Russia.
“It’s hard to understand. I completely appreciate that,” she said. “But here’s the deal: If Iran has a nuclear weapon, its ability to project power into the Middle East and to deter us, our allies and partners is enormous.”
“First, we’ve got to make sure they cannot obtain a nuclear weapon,” she said.
Her comments came just hours after Iran claimed responsibility for a missile barrage that struck near the U.S. consulate site in Irbil. No deaths or injuries were reported in the attack.
Critics say the administration is foolish to ignore such attacks and continue down the current path of negotiations.
“I feel like the administration is living in an alternative universe from where we are,” Sen. Jim Risch of Idaho, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told Fox News Sunday.
“This is nonsense,” Mr. Risch said. “And then it sounds like it had exactly the effect the Iranians wanted. They fired these missiles at a U.S. installation and now Wendy [Sherman] is saying we need to get [the deal] signed as soon as possible.”
The Obama administration in 2015 secured a multilateral with Iran, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. That agreement offered Iran major relief from economic sanctions in exchange for limits on its nuclear program.
Former President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of that deal in 2018. Reviving the pact, or securing another like it, has been a top foreign policy priority for President Biden.